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Why PowerPoint Quality Is Meaningless

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There's been a lot of discussion here and elsewhere about building good PowerPoint presentations. With all due respect, these discussions miss the point.

The difference between a good presentation and a lousy one has nothing to do with slides. Transitions/no transitions. Graphics/no graphics. Pitch slides/no pitch slides. Logos/no logos. Conference presentation/sales presentation. None of it matters.

Good presentations are about one thing and one thing only.

Content.

Nail that, and it won't matter if the local Montessori preschool fingerpaints your slides. Or if you don't have slides at all.


Let me draw from my own experience to make my point—in a brief spasm of “Don'ts.”

Don't Be Irrelevant

I was on a panel once with a guy from Gartner who was asked what they looked for in an analyst relations meeting. He said, “Don't show us slides; we've seen all the slides we want to see. But if you do show us slides, make them relevant.” And then he told how company after company comes to the meeting with slides that contained Gartner's own research. Analysts don't need to see their own work.

Don't Be Afraid to Shut Off the Projector

I once spoke at a conference where one of my sessions had only seven attendees. The topic was current and future trends in e-Government.

So I shut off the LCD, rearranged the furniture into a semi circle and turned the presentation into a guided roundtable discussion. I went around the room, asked each person how their company was currently interacting with the government, and then discussed how the Feds were currently using the net to facilitate that interaction, what they could expect in the future from government and what they should do to prepare for that. The forum was very well received and I never showed a single slide.

Don't Underestimate Your Audience

A $100M company (call them Acme) was preparing a presentation to pitch a $15B company (Ajax)—the unchallenged industry leader—to engage in a partnership.

So what do they put in their 25-slide show? Market statistics—even though Ajax's yearly research budget exceeded Acme's annual revenue. Pages of technical detail—to a company that knew enough about the product to agree to a meeting. Even three slides that tried to make the case that without the partnership, Ajax was doomed and only Acme could save them—this, to the company that owned the market.

Now, these guys spent, literally, weeks on this presentation. Revision after revision. So in the end it was a polished (and expensive) slideshow. But they never got past slide four—since they didn't present the information their audience wanted, the audience took control of the meeting and followed their own agenda.

Don't Expect Good Slides to Make A Difference

Markitek managed a client's user conference for four consecutive years. When we started, their slides were either typed up or hand written, Xeroxed onto transparencies, and then taped onto frames.

I moved them over to PowerPoint and significantly enhanced their quality at the same time. When the first conference was over we reviewed the feedback forms—we expected a lot of comments about slide quality.

But it didn't happen. They were there to learn about new product development, tips on using modules, industry trends and so forth. And that's what their comments focused on. I'm not even sure they noticed the difference.

Don't Hesitate to Break All the Rules

Finally, let me tell you about the worst slide show I've ever seen. I was speaking at a San Diego conference back in 1998. The keynote presenter used some awful text/background color scheme so the words shimmied. Every square centimeter of space was filled with words. Sometimes with whole paragraphs and 50-word quotations.

Every now and again he actually just stood there and read the slides out loud. He must have had something like 30 slides for a one-hour keynote. I mean this was one lousy slide show and broke every rule of good PowerPoints.

But the speaker was Tom Peters and the presentation was magnificent because he had something to say (he also broke the world's record for how many times someone could say “bulls**t” in a 60-minute presentation, but that's another article). To this day clients I acquired at that conference still talk about the things he said.

So my advice in the end is: forget about PowerPoint quality—just concentrate on saying the right things to your audience. Do that, and it won't matter what your slides look like. To put it another way, stop worrying about whether to animate your slides. Worry about animating your audience.


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Michael Fischler is founder and principal coach and consultant of Markitek (markitek.com), which for over a decade has provided marketing consulting and coaching services to companies around the world, from startups and SMEs to giants like Kodak and Pirelli. You can contact him by clicking here.

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